NOTE: Reposted from March 10, 2015, originally entitled "Healthy Self-Worth and Self-Esteem Versus Narcissism (or, What Do Critters Know that We Don't?)"
I had a simply magnificent day yesterday, visiting with good friends whom I only get to see a couple of times a year. On my two-hour drive home, I sang loudly and joyfully to myself, and then I switched on the radio just in time to hear a piece about how parents create "little narcissists" by "overvaluing" them. How interesting! I turned up the radio.
As I listened to the report, I grew concerned. Let's be frank: Parents tend to be an awkward lot. I work with parents all the time, and I know that parents want to do well, and parents want to get it right. Parents want to do the right things, say the right things, take the right approach to ensure that their kids are happy, healthy, and successful people. Nobody...well, nobody I know, anyway...wakes up in the morning with a mission of messing up their kids. I don't know any parents who set a goal of deliberately lousing up their children. The very idea is absurd!
However, it is also true that parenting has become way less instinctual for human animals than it is for non-human animals. I have been enjoying the Hanover Eagles' Nest webcam, spying on a pair of eagle parents-to-be and marveling that they know exactly HOW, for instance, to nestle down on their clutch during a heavy snowstorm so as to keep the eggs warm and dry and viable. I watched them both endure a driving snowfall and bitter-cold temperatures, staying present and clear on the mission. Seems that these eagles know exactly how to build a sturdy nest high up in a tree that will support them and their family, exactly how to pull the grasses close to their bodies to protect the eggs from harsh conditions. They don't hire an architect or take nesting classes. And, eagles know how to do these things right from the get-go; right from their very first clutch they seem to be eagle-parenting experts!
So, what do eagles have that humans don't? Frankly, I don't know the actual answer to that. I'm not an eagle expert. In fact, I'm not an anything expert (except, I am an expert at being me; that's all I'll cop to). I'd say that I am a student of Life on Earth. And, in my studies, I have noticed that many of us humans have become so woefully disconnected enough from our own intuition and natural wisdom that we have become susceptible to questionably bad information.
Bad information? What do I mean by "bad information"? Well, here's another thing that happened yesterday that was interesting. When I got home, my honey was watching a movie on TV that was about halfway over. It was an enjoyable and entertaining film made in 1953 with Janet Leigh and Van Johnson, who play a delightful, loving young couple ("Connie" & "Joe") who are struggling to make ends meet on a pitiful college instructor's salary. Turns out that Joe's father, "Opie" (played beautifully by Louis Calhern), is a sweet, domineering, well-heeled, and somewhat conniving cattle rancher from whom Joe is estranged. When Opie learns that Connie is "expecting," he gets VERY concerned, asserting that she needs MEAT in order to grow that baby right.
Watching the film, we started wondering if this was really a propaganda piece written and funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association! There were so many allusions to how necessary it is for pregnant women to eat meat, not fish or prenatal vitamins, in order to support a growing fetus. Every few minutes, it seemed, there was an allusion to how important meat is. It was bizarre! And, once you become aware of gratuitous product placement in a film, it's nearly impossible not to see it!
Of course, the actual answer to whether red meat is essential at all in the human diet depends on whom you ask and when. Probably every five minutes there's a new study that confirms a position that is either for or against the consumption of red meat and its role in health or disease. There are people who will say it is essential, and there are plenty of folks who will tell you it is not essential.
I'm not interested, frankly, in that debate. I am interested in why we don't know, though.
And, that brings us back to eagles. You don't see eagles fretting and puzzling over what they should or shouldn't eat. They know what to eat. And, they know what not to eat. For instance, most critters avoid margarine like the unwholesome, unnatural thing it is. Most critters...that is, except the human critter. We human critters have somehow become disconnected from our own innate wisdom, or what I think of as our own natural intuition. The more time we spend in our heads, it seems the less access we have to our hearts and our guts, where (I believe) our natural intuition and the innate wisdom that is our birthright resides.
So...what does all this have to do with healthy self-worth and self-esteem versus narcissism? Well, I believe that we know how to raise children with healthy self-worth and self-esteem. I believe that in our hearts and in our guts we have all the "information" we need to say and do the right things. We know how to be with our kids, how to play, how to love them, how to feed them, how to cuddle them, how to guide them, how to nurture them. In fact, our bodies are designed and equipped to nurture young children. And, when we follow that innate wisdom, it always leads us to the next best steps. We start out holding our infants, meeting their beautiful gaze, responding quickly to their early cues. We actually hurt if we don't. And, once we start down that path of following our intuition, that small, quiet voice becomes emboldened and louder and stronger and we become more sure-footed as parents.
However, we second-guess ourselves, fearing (and, isn't it always fear that undermines us?) what other people might think about us, fearing judgment and ridicule, fearing being wrong or being thought to be wrong, fearing the appearance of ineptitude. We allow that fear to drown out our intuition's quiet voice until we can hear it no longer; and in so doing, we allow that fear to block our own brilliance! The more we listen to the fear, the stronger it gets.
OK. Here's the punchline: What causes narcissism? Well, I believe that narcissism is the triumph of style over substance; it's the effect of a poor, unhealthy emotional diet that is bereft of the kind of connection that grows healthy self-worth and self-esteem. So-called "overvaluation" and praise are like margarine. When you have an emotional diet full of "overvaluation" and praise, you get narcissism. When your emotional diet consists of appreciation and acceptance, which are the underpinnings of healthy connection, you get healthy self-worth and self-esteem.
My concern is that parents who hear this report about narcissism may not get this fine but important distinction. Folks who can walk into a supermarket and be duped by pretty packaging and false claims into consuming food that is just not really food may not grasp the subtle differences between "praise" and "appreciation" or between "overvaluation" and "acceptance." Therefore, I am concerned that this report may undermine connection.
I didn't come here, though, just to enter my concerns without offering a solution (even though the irony of what I'm proposing is not lost on me!). I am offering a teleclass series, entitled Making the Switch to Peaceful Parenting. In this series, parents replace fear-based parenting with heart-based parenting. And, while that sounds rather new-agey, I assure that there is nothing new-agey about it. Heart-based parenting is the kind of parenting that other earthlings practice when they have not been frightened away from their own intuition. This class provides you the information you need to reconnect with your own innate wisdom and parent your kids in a way that will benefit your grandkids one day. There are lots of classes available that will fit your schedule, no matter where on earth you live; visit the upcoming events page to see if there is one that works for you.